Moon landing: NASA’s bizarre Apollo 11 pre-flight ritual still honoured after 50 years
On July 20, 1969, NASA successfully completed their Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the lunar surface, shortly followed by Buzz Aldrin. The event brought the world to a standstill as millions watched anxiously on live TV, before Armstrong delivered his legendary “one small step” speech that marked the end of the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
Four days earlier, on July 16, the Saturn V rocket blasted out from the Kennedy Space Centre on Merrit Island, Florida at 1:32pm.
Before they said goodbye to the Earth for eight days, Armstong, Aldrin and Command Module pilot Michael Collins sat down for one final meal.
The trio tucked into a breakfast of steak and eggs, washed down with coffee, before a slice of cake to celebrate the monumental event.
However, it was no mistake.
Missile men are kind of superstitious in many ways
This is a tradition started by Alan Shepard eight years earlier when he became the first American man in space.
The high protein meal was designed to fill him up while being low residue enough that he wouldn’t need to relieve himself for a few hours.
Shepard’s flight that morning was NASA’s first, the suborbital Freedom 7, and it was a striking success.
So much so that the traditional pre-launch breakfast became steak and eggs for all the astronauts.
Last night, during a BBC 2 Moon landing special of “Stargazing”, an employee at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station revealed how, over time, even more rituals are being added to the pre-flight warm-up.
The overall process now takes more than four hours, but astronauts are extremely superstitious.
Dane Dreftly, Launch Complex 41 Tower Chief, detailed how some astronauts now urinate on the back tire of the bus that drops them at the launch pad.
This, again, is a signal to another pioneer of space travel – Yuri Gagarin – who was the first human to journey into space.
While on his way to the Soviet launch pad in 1961, Gagarin realised he needed to relieve himself.
The bus was stopped, Gagarin got off, headed to the back-right tire and did his business.
Mr Dreftly explained why it is a fundamental part of every modern mission.
He said: “I am familiar with that tradition, yes.
“Yes, we are, you know, the steely-eyed missile men we’re kind of superstitious in many ways.
“The rituals that we’ve established I still do every time.
“The last thing I do is I give it a little pat on the very top of the nose cone and I say ‘let’s go, people’.
“Does it have any bearing on reality? No, absolutely not, but it certainly makes me feel better.”
It is far from the last secret that has come to light since the monumental event half a century ago.
Christopher Kraft was the lead flight director of the first Apollo mission – later known as Apollo 1, which exploded during a test flight.
Mr Kraft claimed during Altitude Film’s “Armstrong” that the accident was pivotal to the rest of the Apollo missions.
He said: “It took the fire to rebuild the vehicle.
“And I think that was the secret to Apollo.
“Without it, it just wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think we would have got to the Moon.”
Armstrong himself also has some confidential information, too.
The legend admitted there was a mistake in his famous Moon landing speech.
Listeners back on Earth heard, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
However, Armstrong – who passed away at the age of 82 in 2012 – claimed he actually said something slightly different.
He maintained that he actually said: “That’s one small step for a man.”
He claimed after the Apollo 11 mission: “It’s just that people just didn’t hear [the a].”
The slight difference in the speech makes a big difference to the meaning of the quote.
Semantically speaking, without it, “man” abstractly represents all of humanity, just like “mankind”.
Therefore, the quote is essentially: “That’s one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.”
In addition, it has also been claimed the rest of his speech was a token to his mother’s advice before launch.
Armstrong went on to say: “Yes, the surface is fine and powdery.
“I can kick it up loosely with my toe.
“It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots.
“I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.”
Armstrong then let go of the ladder to the Lunar Module.
Jay Barbree, author of “Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight” claims this was no mistake and it was the one piece of advice his mother Viola had given him.
He wrote in 2014: “His mother had told him her only real concern for his safety was that the Moon’s crust might not support him.
“Neil tested his weight, then he made his statement.”
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